5G networks are seen as the gateway to the era of “smart everything”. The development of this technology has led to a global competition for technological leadership. The 5TONIC lab, founded by Telefónica and IMDEA Networks, was born as a laboratory created to encourage the development of projects, joint ventures, discussion forums, events and conferences in an international environment aimed at achieving the greatest technological impact around 5G.
After receiving several awards and having participated in several European projects for the development of 5G networks, 5TONIC is at the forefront of this multidisciplinary technological research and has become a benchmark to watch throughout Europe. We recently interviewed Carlos Jesús Bernardos, vice president of 5TONIC, with the aim of delving into the work carried out by the lab and how he came to be involved with one of the most prominent 5G laboratories in Europe:
Tell us about yourself. What were you doing before being named the vice president of 5TONIC?
I’m a telecommunications engineer and have a PhD in telematics engineering from Carlos III University in Madrid. During my studies I worked on several engineering projects, but when I finished my degree, I continued working in research. That’s what gave me the opportunity to work in two of my great passions: researching and teaching.
What kind of research did you do while teaching?
My line of research has been evolving over the last few years, but I have recently focused mainly on 5G issues. University Carlos III of Madrid (UC3M) joined 5TONIC from the beginning, and I became UC3M’s representative for the project after a year. Since then, I have participated in various European projects where we have used 5TONIC to carry out validations and experiments with 5G networks.
I want to take advantage of this moment to thank the rest of the members of the Steering Board who have placed their trust in me to be vice president of this project.
What future plans do you have for the lab?
The laboratory has a very consolidated and positive trajectory, that is why I wanted to thank all the members and collaborators of 5TONIC and the leadership work of Juan Carlos García and David del Val from Telefónica.
The next steps are to ensure that 5TONIC continues being a 5G co-creation and research environment, validating the implementation of this technology in environments where mobile communications had not previously been considered or used for various reasons, such as industrial environments or environments where this technology has been used but wasn’t able capture its full potential at the time.
The path that 5TONIC follows will continue to facilitate innovation in 5G issues and will later take advantage of the knowledge of validation and experimentation to start exploring 6G.
What challenges is the lab facing right now?
The main challenge we face is to evolve the lab while keeping it as an environment that can be used and exploited, as it’s not easy to develop and test products in pre-production. Balance must be maintained while also staying in line with individual strategies and interests.
In the short and long term however, one of our advantages is that we have an environment that is used extensively for these types of technologies.
Another challenge is being open to new use cases and innovation projects. Collaboration is needed to ensure that we are continually moving forward and looking to the future to work on the next generation of 6G that lies ahead.
What position is 5TONIC in compared to the USA or other countries such as Germany?
5TONIC is among the first at the European level. The proof lies in that 5TONIC is involved in all ICT-17 EU projects, which are the ones developing 5G end-to-end testing platforms. We have large research infrastructures and an international leadership position that we must continue to maintain.
One of our strengths in Europe is to be involved in various projects funded by the EU, but we are also a benchmark at an international level. In fact, we have research collaborations with the US.
What advantages will 5G have when fully developed and available for the end user?
The biggest advantage will not only be the speed, as in previous generations. In fact, in recent months we have started to see the deployments of large operators when announcing massive 5G projects. We will see the real advantages as network coverage increases and there are more terminals available.
The greatest advantages will reach the final consumer in a more indirect way because the main consumers of these advantages of 5G are going to be the vertical industries: industry 4.0, connected vehicles or the emergency health sector, among many others. Other advantages will be seen more directly, such as real-time monitoring and full connectivity, something that we will all be able to enjoy.
Now that you mention it, what role will 5G play in the healthcare field?
5G plays and will continue to play a very important role in the healthcare sector. In fact, we have already worked with SAMUR-PC and the Madrid City Council on the 5G-TRANSFORMER project. It was an emergency pilot where thanks to wearable devices connected to 5G, different medical parameters (such as heart rate) could be monitored to detect (or even predict) diseases/pathologies.
The capabilities of 5G in terms of massive connectivity and low energy consumption can be combined with the flexibility and adaptability of the network as seen in projects like 5G-TRANSFORMER. In this project, we found that we could detect a cardiac arrest and automatically send a warning as well as the person’s location to the nearest ambulance without requiring human interaction, meaning that no one has to call the emergency room for this to happen. In the same way, we can support the medical team with augmented reality glasses that allow the health personnel to be guided. All this can be done with better image quality and low latency. That is one of the advantages that we can achieve in this area with 5G.
When will this technology be released to the market?
The pandemic has certainly affected the development of this type of technology. It is an ongoing process, although as we can see, most operators have released their short-term hedging strategies.
The deployment of 5G will be progressive over time, gradually changing the core and infrastructure of the network in order to become effective. It could take a couple of years until we see 5G fully deployed in our lives.
What projects are you currently working on?
The most recent is the 5GROWTH, which is a third phase 5G PPP Horizon 2020 project. Initially these projects were financed to generate 5G technology, with a 2nd phase for further evolving the technology and a 3rd phase to focus on validation in real or almost real environments.
We are currently validating 4 pilots, one with INNOVALIA (Spain), another with COMAU (Turin), both on Industry 4.0 topics, and two with EFACEC (Portugal), about the use of 5G for railway crossing monitoring and smart grid. Additionally, 5GROWTH continues working on improvements that could help in these types of real cases.
You’ve recently been working with Ericsson at the Ford factory located in Valencia. What project is this for? Is there an end date?
We don’t know the date yet as it’s only recently begun. In this case, 5TONIC is collaborating within the project which is called the 5G INDUCE. Essentially, it involves achieving the perfect automation of the factory through 5G, which means improving the AGVs to operate them in real time, handling of vehicles through gestures, and the introduction of augmented reality in this area. All of these are elements that benefit from 5G and EVE computing.
What will be the difference between 5G and 6G?
This is a complex question, as 6G doesn’t exist as such and remains in extremely early development. My projection is that this technology will be based on the full exploitation of artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation in most of the processes.
Apart from that, it will also likely be accompanied by an increase in speed and the number of possible connections from each device, which will generate an immense amount of data and that’s something we must also be prepared for.
5TONIC is involved in a number of notable 5G projects. You can obtain more information about its current projects here: the Hexa-X, the LUDICO, the H2020 EU 5G-INDUCE, its collaboration with Visionable and the 5G MEC Ultra Video Server, for which it has received an award for best 5G project. To learn more, you can also visit its official website.